Clean And Polish Leather Shoes

Learn to clean and polish leather shoes. Extend the natural life of your investment, by cleaning and polishing your favorites!

The practice of shining and polishing shoes has been around since the invention of foot coverings. Shining not only gives shoes an appealing glossy finish, but also preserves their workmanship and quality by moisturizing the leather, adding years to their life. Left untreated, leathers dry, crack, and fall apart.


Good, quality leather shoes should be polished once a month to preserve their life if they're worn regularly. As you would clean your dry cleaning items or other specialty wearables, clean and polish shoes whenever necessary. If shoes are worn seldomly, clean once per month and polish and shine only as needed.


Before polishing and waterproofing footwear, it needs to be cleaned. Dirt, debris, and other matter easily embed themselves into leather. A good cleaning will also help remove scuffs and other minor stains from shoes. To clean leather properly, determine which type of leather you have. Smooth leathers are treated differently than suede or nubuck.


SALT STAINS can be removed from shoes with a mixture of 1 cup hot water and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Mix well and apply to shoe with a soft rag, gently scrubbing affected area. Allow to air dry.

SHOE BRUSHES can also be used on leather shoes to help remove dirt and debris.


Shoe polishes come in four basic premixed forms: waxes, pastes, liquids,and creams.

Using wax will give you a glossy shine and also prevent moisture from seeping into the leather. Wax polishes are used on shoes which are exposed regularly to outdoor elements, such as hiking and combat boots. Wax can dry shoes too, causing them to crack with age. If using wax, it's important to use a leather conditioner first, to preserve the quality of the leather.

Creams and pastes add moisture to your shoe by soaking into leathers as they work. Because they actually penetrate the surface of the leather, creams and pastes cover scratches and other imperfections. Creams and pastes work well on all types of shiny or smooth leathers.

Liquid shoe polish is easy to apply, but like wax, doesn't penetrate or condition leather. Use liquid "quick fix" polishes seldomly.


Suede shoes require special attention. Suedes, roughout leathers, patent leathers, and nubuck should NEVER be shined. They can be cleaned, waterproofed, and conditioned, though.

Suedes can be cleaned by rubbing stains and imperfections with a common pencil eraser or small piece of fine grain sandpaper. Once cleaned, rub suede with a bath or kitchen towel to help restore its nap and remove any shiny or damaged spots. Condition with specialized suede or nubuck conditioner.


1. Use a leather cleaner and soft rag to remove dirt and debris. Smooth leathers can be cleaned with saddle soap and a damp cloth. If no leather cleaner is available, use a slightly damp cotton cloth. Pay careful attention to stitching, soles, and heels.

2. Conditioning. Use a leather conditioner especially made for smooth leathers to soften your shoes.

3. If scratches or other imperfections are apparent, condition with a shade or cream formula that is one shade lighter than the actual color of the shoe.

4. Use appropriate polish. Pastes, waxes, and cream polishes are all effective polishers for smooth leather footwear. Apply polish in small, circular motions, beginning at the heel of the shoe. Pay attention to scuff marks, scratches, seams, stitching, and the toe area.

5. Once shoe has dried, waterproof.


1. Using a wet cotton cloth, clean dirt and debris from smooth leather shoes and towel dry.

2. Drip a small amount of vegetable or olive oil on to a soft, cotton rag and rub over entire surface of the shoe. Allow the oil to be absorbed.

3. Using a dry cotton cloth, buff shoes until they shine and sparkle.

4. Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to a cotton cloth and rebuff the surface of the shoe. (This will help prevent the leather from cracking, keeping it smooth and supple.)


SHOE WIPES, sold in small pouches and containing a small cotton fibered cloth pretreated with cleaners and polishers, now offer an easy way to touch up shoes while you're on the go. Please note: these products work well, but cannot replace a true cleaning and shining.

SPRAY CLEANERS are also new to the market. Sold in a metered spray, cleaners can be sprayed directly on to leather shoes or a cleaning cloth. Again, this product works great in a pinch, but can never offer the same benefits as traditional cleaning, shining, or polishing.

SHINE SPONGES are convenient and effective in-between shoe polishers. Pretreated sponges can instantly give a new glossy coating to tired, old shoes. Use only between cleanings and polishings.


PLACE your shoes on shoe trees in-between wearings. Shoe trees will help to retain the shape and form of your shoes.

USE a soft cotton rag to wipe dirt from shoes in-between wearings.

ALLOW shoes to air dry after cleaning, treating and polishing for the best finish and protection.

LEATHERS can be oiled after being cleaned and polished with mink oil or other leather preservatives.

PLACE shoes to be shined and all materials on top of several layers of newspapers before you begin to avoid spills and accidents.

SHOELACES should always be removed from the shoe before cleaning or polishing.

MILDEW can be removed from leather shoes with a cup of rubbing alcohol and an equal amount of water. Sponge on, working into the leather, and allow to air dry. Then, clean, condition, and polish as usual.

SHOE ODOR can be treated with baking soda. Sprinkle a fine amount of baking soda inside shoe and allow to rest overnight. In the morning, shake out.

CEDAR BLOCKS can also be placed in leather shoes to help control and combat odor problems.

CLEAN leather shoes between polishings with a damp cloth.

WATERPROOFING leather shoes not only helps to prevent moisture damage, but also protects against scuff marks and dirt and debris.

© High Speed Ventures 2011